2000

We’re now on the verge, or maybe over the verge, of having 2000 US soldiers killed in Iraq. It’s pretty amazing that we conquered the country with, what was it, less than 200 killed in action? I guess it’s like Quintus told Maximus in the movie Gladiator, “People should know when they are conquered.”

People should also know when they’re being taken for a ride.

A couple months ago, I was at an event and heard a lady telling another, “Every year 3000 people are killed on highways here in the United States. That’s less than have been killed in Iraq. So no matter what they tell you on the news, it’s actually safer to be in Iraq.”

She noticed me listening, and said, “Isn’t that right, Steve? It’s safer in Iraq than on our own highways?”

I told her, “That’s 3000 out of 250 million. In Iraq, it’s a couple thousand out of maybe a half-million US soldiers who have been in and out of the country.” And she didn’t really know how to answer that.

Where did she hear that? From Rush Limbaugh? From Fox News? Ann Coulter? From Jerry Falwell or James Dobson? Beats me. But I’m tired of the right-wing apologists for whatever the Bush administration does. Or, I’m tired of gullible Christian conservatives automatically believing whatever nonsense these apologists barf up. I’m always ticked when black leaders gloss over whatever Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton say and do, giving them a pass on everything from credibility to morality. But we Christian conservatives aren’t a whole lot better. I voted for George Bush twice, without apology. But I’m hugely, HUGELY disappointed.

But I’ll save that for a post some other time. No sense rushing in to totally alienate the legions of conversative Christians who devour my every post.

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My International Night Out

Tuesday is my “Guys Night Out,” the night I spend three hours at the Fort Wayne ping pong club. It’s also become somewhat of an international night. Like last night.

I started out playing Benny, who is from Cuba. I beat him last week, but he clobbered me last night, 3-0 (we play best of five games). Not a good start for the evening. Benny smashes harder than anyone else in the club. When he winds up with his forehand, you might as well crawl under the table, because you’re not gonna return it, and if you try, you might get hurt. I make a big deal out of his smashes, and Benny gets a kick out of it. When he smashes one hard, and I just wrap my arms around my head in protection, he just smiles broadly.

Then I played Ahmed. He’s been there the past two weeks, but I hadn’t played him yet. He plays up close and very fast. I’d seen him really go at it with some of the better players, and I didn’t expect to fare well against him. He won the first two games, but I figured out some things that were working, and I ended up winning the match in the fifth game (though it went into the ping pong version of extra points). Ahmed looked Arabic, and I figured he was from Iran, Iraq, maybe Lebanon or Jordan. Somewhere in that vicinity. But as we played, I recognized Richard Prabhakar’s accent. He was Indian. After our match, I spent some time just talking with Ahmed. Sure enough, he’s from India. Arrived a couple of months ago, and now works for Cooper Tire in Auburn, Ind. We had a nice discussion.

Then I played an American–Mike, whom I’ve never beat, though I’ve come very very very close several times. One of these weeks, I’ll prevail. Mike’s an engineer with ITT, working on weather satellites.

Next was John, who is from China. I’ve never beaten him, and probably never will. But I played respectably last night. After our match, he gave me some tips which turned out to be good advice. He told me I was passing up some shots which “I know you can hit.”

Then I played Ran, also from China. He’s been in Fort Wayne just three weeks, and works for Essex Wire. Speaks great English. While John is serious, Ran constantly sports a big smile and loves to joke around. A delightful guy. I beat him, by the way. Beat him a couple weeks ago, too, though it went down to the wire. In talking afterwards, Ran pointed to John (who was playing Ahmed at the time), and asked me where John was from. “He looks Japanese,” Ran said. “Mortal enemies,” I replied. He smiled. “Yes, they bombed my town during the war.” But I told him John was from China. Ran visited Hong Kong in 1995, and I was there in 1996, so we had some things to talk about there. He didn’t care for Hong Kong. Too big, crowded, and fast-paced for him. I liked Hong Kong, but agreed that is was too big, crowded, and fast-paced for me.

Next came Rick, who looks Jamaican but is actually from Panama. I’d never beaten Rick before, though again, like Mike, I had come mighty close. Last night, I beat him in five games. He was not moving very well, had a limp or something, but he refused to make any excuses which would lessen my victory. Classy guy.

Then I played another American, a newbie to the club named Brent. Won easily.

So last night, I ended up with a winning record, 4 matches won to 3 lost. And five of the seven were foreigners. Two of last night’s victories came against guys I didn’t expect to beat. So although I started out with a whupping from my Cuban friend, the evening was salvaged.

I enjoy the international guys. I’ve traveled enough that I find things to talk to them about. Plus, they’re all just so doggone interesting. I love hearing their stories. And it helps me appreciate the reality of the fact that the mission field has come to us.

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Me and the Revolution

Well, it’s my birthday. Age 49. Really. Not “49 and holding,” but an actual 49. So next year, people will probably make a bit deal out of the big 5-0. Our worship leader intended to draw attention to my birthday during the services this morning, so they could sing “Happy Birthday,” but he forgot. That’s fine with me. I hate having “Happy Birthday” sung to me. It’s excrutiating.

I was at a little medical clinic several years ago for some ailment I can no longer remember. A nurse came in, looked at my chart, and saw my birthday: October 23, 1956. In an East European accent, she said, “You were born on a very special day.”

I responded, “I know. The day the Hungarian Revolution started.”

It about blew her over. The expression on her face was priceless. She was from Hungary and experienced the invasion by Russian tanks. She remembered it well. And she was astonished that this American knew that date. My Mom had told me about the Hungarian Revolution connection when I was young, so I’ve always been aware of it. That nurse made sure I was well taken care of. It’s nice when a piece of trivia, after 40-some years, actually comes in handy.

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Extrapolations on Big & Rich

My friend Ed, over at Attention Span, just finished posting “Big Church-Little Church Blues, Part 2.” Part 1 was quite good. So is this one. Especially the comments from Mike, yet another friend of mine who does the River Church blog. Both Ed and Mike are small-church pastors, which makes Mike’s comments, in my book, pretty courageous.

Ed raises some stewardship issues, when he compares the cost of reaching people in America (especially suburbia) with, say, Honduras. How do we justify spending so much to reach only a few people in the States, when the same amount could reach hundreds–maybe thousands–of people in Honduras? It’s a good point.

But let’s extrapolate that point. Are you impressed that I used “extrapolate”? It’s a fancy word, and I think it sounds cool. But it’s also useful in this context.

If it’s about stewardship, then let’s stop trying to evangelize in Muslim countries. The costs and risks are great, and the “return on investment” has been historically minimal. It’s just not fertile ground for evangelism. That money would be better spent in Africa, Latin America, or the former Soviet states, where converts can be gained at a much better cost-per-convert. And Europe, from what I hear, is tough. In fact, if you’re going to spend evangelistic money in a Western country, it would probably be better spent in the States. People just aren’t as receptive in Europe. Wouldn’t God be pleased if we used His money to gain the most converts-per-dollar? It’s just good stewardship.

The thing is, nonChristians are nonChristians no matter where they live, and we have a responsibility to go after them with the Gospel. If it’s less expensive in one place than it is in another–so what? Converts are converts. They’ll all be asked the same questions by St. Peter.

So, while my church may be spending less money-per-convert than a church in my city’s suburbs, I view it as a matter of context. Do what’s necessary to reach the people around you.

That said…I walked into a church on my end of town–the rich suburbs–and was totally turned off by the extravagance. This, mind you, is a very good church (not of my denomination). It’s reaching people for Christ, building disciples, giving energy and resources to inner city work, doing good stuff in general. But I walked into the entryway and told my wife, “I feel like I’m going to the opera.” My heart says it’s wasteful, unnecessary, a matter of the believers pampering themselves. And I do believe there is some of that. Having come from a large suburban church, I recall how easy it is to spend money. But there are issues of context, of reaching the type of people around you, that come into play. And those issues make me far less judgmental than the cynic in me yearns to be.

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Taking Control of Your Own Lilfe

I just finished posting the 2005-2007 United Brethren Discipline on our denominational website. The US National Conference always makes numerous-to-extensive changes, and the 2005 edition was on the “extensive” side of things. But I got things updated, redesigned the document in an 8.5-by-11 inch format, and posted it online in PDF format. We’re not doing a commercially-printed version this time.

The Discipline is pretty much our denomination’s “manual of operations.” It contains info on membership standards, organizational structure, and much more. Over the past 15 years, we have removed a ton of restrictions from the Discipline, particularly regarding organizational issues. Now, conferences and local churches are free to adopt pretty much whatever structure they want to get the job done, with only a few requirements to help us work together without being totally independent.

Yet, we still get calls from people wanting to know what the Discipline requires in various situations. People seem to have some magnetic attraction to rules. They don’t handle freedom naturally. “Can our church form a youth commission that reports to the administrative board?” “Yes, you can.” “But the Discipline doesn’t say anything about it, so we were wondering if it was allowed.”

That kind of nonsense.

We also get people who call the bishop’s office for guidance on silly little things. “How do we handle this situation in our church?” They have the freedom to handle it any way they want. Yet they’re afraid to seize the day. They want to see something in writing, and if not in writing, they want to get direction from On High. I just don’t relate to that mentality very well, because I’m the type who acts and then gets permission, if there is fallout. There are lots of us out there, and we can create a different breed of problem for an organization, since we can constitute a battery of loose cannons. But I think an organization is better off with loose cannons than ammunition-less cannons.

Sometimes, you just have to force people to take their destiny into their own hands. You have to say, “You figure it out. You have the ability.”

Right now, I’m finishing up installing all new Macs for everyone in the building. That has also meant migrating people to a bunch of new programs and ways of doing things on the computer. I’ve given my coworkers resources, books, and other ways to learn on their own. Yet more often than not, they’ll bring questions to my door, rather than try to figure things out on their own. And more often than not, I’ll give them the answer they need. It’s actually efficient that way–come to me, rather than spend an hour searching for the answer on their own.

But the result is that people don’t learn to fend for themselves, don’t learn to find their own answers. They become dependent. And that’s not good. Plus, from my vantage point, it can be doggone annoying.

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The Final Gas Price

My Dodge Dakota was almost on empty yesterday, so I filled up. Came to $46. To which I say:

*&^%$#@!!#$$%^&$@#@%^&*!!!!

Or something like that.

My parents’ generation always notices gas prices, and they talk about gas prices like I might talk about, say, the price of coffee at Starbucks. “Did you notice that the price of gas went up a penny?” I’ve never been one to notice. Those signs out in front of gas stations might as well not exist for me. I have gas stations I go to regularly (BP, Shell, or Meiers), and whatever the price is, that’s what I pay. And I always pay at the pump with a credit card.

But Pam, my wife, is beginning to talk about the price of gas. She’s noticing those signs. And she’s younger than me, barely on the edge of being a baby boomer. Of course, she’s a CPA, so you might expect her to notice money-related information.

On the other hand, when I’m filling up with gas, I pay strict attention to the number showing when the pump clicks off. I don’t mean the outrageousness of the final price. I mean the really important figure: whether or not it ends on a number ending in zero. You see, the pump didn’t click off at $46 even. No, it was $45.76. I then nudged it on up to $46. If I miscalculated and it ended in $46.01, I would need to nurse it on up to $46.10, or $46.20. This is very important to me. It may strike you as a bit banal, without the b, but I guess “this is the way God made me.”

Now, Pam can end on any number. When the pump clicks off, she removes the pump handle and she’s done. Uneven numbers don’t faze her. She can deal with it. But I guess I lack her maturity in that area. I must, absolutely must, try to at least get to the next round dollar amount. If not an even dollar amount, then I’ll settle for any other number ending in zero. But never $45.76. Never ever.

I am proud of the fact that I’m able to obsess over the things in life that truly matter.

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Seven Years

Today was our anniversary Sunday at Anchor, my church. It was seven years ago that about 40 of us, a core group from the suburban Emmanuel Community Church, launched a new church on the corner of Third and Schilling. A United Brethren church had existed there since the 1930s, but this was essentially a new church. A restart. We had spent the night before, Saturday, giving the place a cleaning from top to bottom. And now, Sunday morning, we prepared to get this new thing underway, and wondered if anybody would come.

About 135 people came, if I remember. Some were well-wishers from Emmanuel, coming over for moral support. But others were people from the community who received a postcard in the mail about this new church starting. It was pretty exciting. We didn’t really know what we were doing. We were bringing over some methods and ministry assumptions from Emmanuel, things which didn’t necessarily fit in our working class neighborhood. But we were smart enough to adapt as the weeks and months passed. The attendance settled in around 90-100, and we’ve grown gradually, even slowly. But we’ve grown, and we’ve produced fruit that doesn’t always show up in numbers.

Less than ten of that core group remain. Another six or so from the previous UB congregation still attend. We’ve been running around 150 regularly lately. Going to two services in mid-September was definitely a good thing. Today we had a potluck after the service. Potlucks are always good things.

I love being at Anchor. I love being vitally needed. I love having so many opportunities to serve and lead. I love reaching and interacting with the type of people who come to Anchor. I love the fact that so many of us still have burning within us a desire to really make a difference in this community. That passion hasn’t been extinguished by settling into patterns, focusing inward, and becoming content with the status quo. There are so many things about Anchor that need improved, and that can’t be fixed by throwing money at it, since we just don’t have the money. There are things that won’t happen unless God does it. I love wrestling with these things.

In a few minutes, about a dozen adults will come over for our Sunday night Bible study. They’re fun people. I didn’t know any of them seven years ago. Now most of them are friends. This is just way too cool.

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Is This Some Form of Racism, or Not?

I’m no racist. When I was in junior high, Dad taught in an all-black inner city school, back in the days of the Martin Luther King riots. My sister-in-law teaches in a mostly black school. I graduated from a California high school which had a huge ethnic mix–hispanic, Chinese, Portuguese, Vietnamese, blacks, Filipinos, and various brands of caucasians: Oakies, Arkies, and Texans, who moved out during the Great Depression. My first day of school there, when I left the bus back in our town, I found myself surrounded by a group of blacks as another black tried to pick a fight with me, and everyone was egging us to go at it. Yeah, I was scared spitless, but I managed to walk away intact. From then on, I walked to a different bus stop. Those same guys came over to our house frequently, since the parsonage had a full-court basketball court in back. I played basketball with those blacks–and with bunches of Hispanics–all the time.

At the ping pong club, I enjoy talking to the various immigrants who show up. There are probably a half dozen guys of Chinese ancestry. There are several Hispanics–Panama, Peru, Cuba, and elsewhere. This week there were two new guys. One seemed to be arabic or persian. He was GOOD, too. I’d like to get to know him. All of these immigrants have interesting stories.

Then yesterday I went to the dentist for a routine cleaning. Normally Becky is my hygienist, but she’s on maternity leave, so I let them set me up with Lonnie, a new girl. I arrived at the office, and there was a black girl standing in the receptionist’s area. I hadn’t seen her before. I told her I had an 8:30 appointment, then sat down in the waiting room. A minute later, she came out with a folder. I figured it contained information for me to update. Then she said, “We’re ready for you now. I’m Lonnie.”

And I began kicking myself for assuming that this new black girl must be the receptionist, and not a professionally-trained hygienist. Some people would say I was just showing some kind of racist stereotyping or exhibiting latant racism lurking within my core being. But I think I just made a simple mistake, an errant assumption…BASED on some kind of stereotyping, I guess. I don’t know. I’m confused.

Anyway, Lonnie was great. I like her better than Becky, and asked specifically for Lonnie the next time. And I ask myself again: is that just the playing out of some white guilt? Over-compensating by making sure I make a choice in favor of an African-American? I don’t want to think so, but…maybe I did?

This is all complicated. And it’s made more complicated by the Jesse Jacksons and Al Sharptons, who continually tell us we’re a bunch of racists, even if we don’t think we are. And I resent that. But there’s a mixture of truth and untruth there, and I’m not smart enough to sort it all out.

Am I racist, and just don’t realize it?

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Easy Marks for Criticism

Wired magazine has become one of my favorite magazines. I also read Time, Newsweek, Businessweek, and the New Yorker every week, so there’s not much room to add new magazines. But we were getting a free Wired subscription for a while–I still don’t know why–and I got hooked. Now we pay for the thing.

A recent article was on the TV channel Comedy Central, and about some of the innovative things they’re doing. The head of Comedy Central previously worked at the FOX network, which was old-school in how it did things. This guy said, “Being at Fox was like taking Latin. It was like learning the language on which all the other languages are based but no one uses anymore.”

I found that interesting. I could make applications to the church, all of them cynical, so I question the value of me drawing out the analogies. I could apply it to church structure, denominationalism, church music, MS-DOS (oops–nothing religious about that), and other things. Might need to stretch some of the analogies, but it could be done. And I would be making some kind of point and using an interesting quote on my blog.

A long time ago, I sat in a two-day advanced writing seminar in Chicago, and the instructor was talking about the topics we choose, in journalism, for feature articles. He said some topics are easy marks–too easy, so easy that it can make us lazy. He said, “You could go to just about any inner city public school and find enough fodder to do an absolutely devastating article about that school–but why would you want to?” Good point. Those school have teachers and adminstrators trying to do a good job under difficult situations. Why kick out the chair from under them?

I guess churchism and denominationalism are pretty easy marks, for those who want to wax cynical. The post-modern writers are certainly having a blast. But foundations, while sometimes outdated, are still valuable. I wouldn’t want to attend a church that went about things the way the churches of my childhood did–but I still find things of value to draw from those days, and I recognize the leaders of my youth as really good people.

I’ll bet Comedy Central can find some valuable things to learn from FOX, which, as a relative newcomer to the Major Networks League, no doubt learned much from the Big Three (CBS, NBC, ABC) while at the same time going in some novel directions.

It’s too easy to criticize those who came before us. But in the church, they usually deserve more respect than the young bucks are willing to give them. I don’t know Latin. But I do admit that if I knew Latin (as my Mom does), it would come in very handy in my work as a wordsmith.

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The Guys-and-Girls Dance

I’m currently in the library of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill. My pastor has been working on his MDiv for the past two-and-a-half years, and this semester he has a class on Monday night. So I rode up with him today. Good chance to talk about stuff. I spent some hours at a Barnes & Noble bookstore, then went down the street to the Borders bookstore. I can always kill time in bookstores. And now I’m back at the college library, waiting for him.

It’s 8:25, and Tim’s class gets out promptly at 9:00. My Airport wireless card is connected to the Trinity wireless system here in the library, but I’ve got a very weak signal. But good enough to connect to Blogger, if I wait long enough. I better hurry, since my battery level is down to 34% and dropping quickly. I’m too lazy to go find an outlet.

I’m in an area with some nice padded chairs. A guy and a girl, new acquaintances, are sitting at two more chairs nearby, and I can hear them talking. Nice kids. Both freshman, evidently. The guy is doing the pre-ask-out-on-a-date dance that I remember playing when I was a college student, several ice ages ago. It’s fun to observe, because I know what’s going on. The guy, a tall skinny fellow with short blonde hair and a backpack, is taking the initiative. The girl is appreciating it. They talk about their classes, dorms, how they ended up at Trinity, what churches they came from, who their professors are, yada yada yada. He plays soccer. They talk well together, easily, no silences.

The guy will find ways to run into her during the day, and maybe they’ll talk in the cafeteria. And one of these days–maybe soon–they’ll go out on a date together. And they’ll have a good time, because it’s obvious they don’t have any trouble conversing. They seem compatible. And they’re both Christians. This is what Christian colleges are for.

I find the whole thing very cute and innocent. And I’m glad I don’t need to do that anymore.

I’m down to 28%. Better hurry.

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